Chinatown gives Chinese students a taste of home

3 Mins read

The restaurant Shaxian Snacks serves down-to-earth Chinese food and community to homesick students.

Most Chinese people living in London are used to going for a walk in Chinatown to relieve their homesickness. Walking through Chinatown, you will see Chinese-style towers, hear salesmen greet you in Chinese and see familiar Chinese characters. It seems that you have returned to the motherland, and you can’t help but sigh that it is so great!

Chinatown consists of a main street about 800 meters long and several side streets. There are archways at the three main entrances with the words London Chinatown and Guotai Minan on them.

Guotai Minan means that the country is peaceful and the people’s lives are stable. It is the best blessing to the country. Restaurants, shopping malls, pharmacies and other stores have dazzling signs with Chinese characters hanging on them.

One of the archways at the entrance to Chinatown in London [Unsplash: CabService London]

Walking into Chinatown, a restaurant called Shaxian Snacks comes into view. Shaxian snacks are very popular in China and are synonymous with down-to-earth food. You can find an array of Chinese snacks in this store.

When you walk to the door of the store, you will see the service staff greeting potential customers enthusiastically at the door. The middle-aged woman, Guixiang, who greets me speaks Chinese with a strong Fujian accent. Fujian is a city in southern China and has many world-famous delicacies, including Shaxian snacks.

While we were waiting for our meal, Guixiang, the owner of the restaurant, came to our table and asked if we were satisfied with the taste of the dishes. Smiling, she asked me if I was a Chinese student and how long I had been staying in the UK.

She said that her original hope for her restaurant was that international students would feel like they were home when they saw the name Shaxian Snacks. She has been in London for more than 30 years and has always lived in Chinatown.

She believes that Chinatown is a place where Chinese people can see the world and the world can see China. She said she was proud to open a Chinese restaurant here, which could promote Chinese food culture and let more visitors know a wider array of Chinese food, not just dumplings and noodles.

Afterwards, she proudly talked about Fuzhou cuisine in the restaurant. She said their dishes are all healthy and highly recommends Buddha Jumps Over the Wall. It is a famous dish in Fujian, China, which originated in the Qing Dynasty. It puts different kinds of rare seafood and mushrooms together, adds soup and cooks them in a pot for 48 hours.

Because the preparation is time-consuming and the ingredients are costly, this dish is expensive in China. But here it only costs £40, which is half the price in China.

Guixiang explained: “Because most of the people who come to eat in my store are international students, and they don’t have a lot of money, I will change some less expensive ingredients in it, but the taste will be the same. At the same time, I also want to promote China’s food culture, allowing more foreigners to have the opportunity to eat Chinese snacks.”

Finally, she proudly said that the dish she improved was even featured on CCTV, China’s national television station. The reason why she was able to open a restaurant in Chinatown was because her landlady was deeply attracted by the taste of this dish.

From her conversation, I can still feel that even though she has lived here for more than 30 years and opened three chain restaurants, she still feels like a foreigner and it is difficult to integrate into local life. I suggested that she was a native of Chinatown.

Because Chinatown has a strong Chinese flavour, even though it covers an area of less than one square kilometre, it is home to Chinese communities, food supermarkets, banks, travel agencies, law firms and libraries.

Perhaps here, Chinese people can really find a sense of belonging.

Featured Image by Lalitphat Phunchuang via Unsplash.

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